IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Robby Benson Talks 'Beauty and the Beast 3D'

Tuesday, 24 January 2012 17:24 Written by  Rocio Anica
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Robby Benson Talks 'Beauty and the Beast 3D'

Beauty and the Beast was re-released in 3D to theatres everywhere on January 13th, and it has been doing remarkably well, though, honestly, it’s renewed success is no surprise. Beauty and the Beast may have been produced before Pixar’s time, making its sheen different than animations developed in this millennium, but certain elements of its story transcend the visual, hitting all kinds of notes that have proven timeless over the years.

For one, Beauty and the Beast is much darker than other animated features. It’s gothic allusions and brooding characters make it an animated feature that twinkles a little more darkly amongst the Disney renaissance repertoire, making it unlike any movie before or after it. Further, the movie’s heroine is the quintessential odd-girl-out, which is a starting point to any good gothic romance; it takes an interesting character to understand and grow intimate with another interesting character. Beauty and the Beast also marks the first time a “Disney Princess” is rewarded for favoring reading and her imagination, and not for simply being the town beauty. Then, there is the issue of the movie’s villainy. At times it seems as if it’s both the Beast and Gaston, the heroine’s ardent suitor, making this Disney classic a movie about redemption and the danger of committing erroneous and superficial judgments about the people you encounter. Indeed, the creators of Beauty and the Beast produced something truly unique by charging a gloomy fairy tale with modern sensibilities.

Oh, and then there’s the music! Really, its accolades speak louder. Beauty and the Beast won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture –Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. It was also the first animated motion picture nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (the only other animated feature to ever gain this honor was Up in 2009). It ended up sweeping the Oscars by winning the Academy Award for Best Music - Original Score, and the Academy Award for Best Music - Original Song.

With all of the renewed interest in this wonderful movie recently, I got the chance to speak on behalf of IAR with the inimitable Robby Benson, who voiced the part of The Beast and is an artistic force in his own right. Benson spoke about watching his children’s growth parallel the success of the Beauty and the Beast legacy, his thoughts about being a successful voice actor, and about what it means to be a creative person.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: For starters, did your children grow up knowing all the words and music to Beauty and the Beast?

Robby Benson: Well, that’s a wonderful question actually, because my daughter, Lyric, sat on my lap during pencil sketches and during some of the Beauty and the Beast sessions. Eventually, she was there for the premiere, and then again when they brought it out of the vault and put it on IMAX. My daughter is now twenty-eight years old. The most fulfilling thing is that, you know, Beauty and the Beast is all about music and all about sound, and I really think that Beauty and the Beast inspired both of us in so many ways. In the last eight months, we finished my daughter’s debut album, called Lyric’s Love Light Revolution, which was the most rewarding project I’ve ever worked on. She’s got her mother’s talent and she writes beautiful lyrics. Watching her grow up, really, the marker of all of that was watching Beauty and the Beast when she was a little girl on my lap and now suddenly here it is in 3D, and it’s just as breathtaking. Now she’s doing her own singing and writing. I think (composers) Howard Ashman and Alan Menken would be very proud of her.

Was Beauty and the Beast your first role as a voice actor?

Benson: I actually started doing voice work when I was a teenager. I used to do the voices of foreign films that came into this country that needed what was called, back then, looping. It wasn’t yet called dubbing; it was called looping, because it was a big loop of film. We did War and Peace, Garden of the Finzi-Continis, and all of the Godzilla movies. I did all of the movies that would make you laugh because the looping is way off. If there’s a little boy saying, “Oh my god, there’s Godzilla,” then it’s probably me. I did some cartoons before that and I also did a lot of commercials. I used to sing on a lot of jingles like, “I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Weiner,” Dr. Pepper, Armor Hot Dogs. Voiceovers and sound is very much a part of my life. I’m a sound engineer and I love to compose music, so doing the voice of the Beast was really up my alley. It was a great job.

What are some of the best things about being a voice actor, from your very experienced point-of-view?

Benson: Well, you don’t have to shave. You don’t have to get dressed up and you can close your eyes and imagine the set. You can literally go back into the time of the story and really be that character. Whereas when you’re on a set, things are tangible. All of sudden, somebody’s idea of what the set looks like, is what you’re walking around in, seeing the set. The director is telling exactly what marks to hit, when to stop, and when to talk. But when you’re a voice actor, you have all the freedom in the world, and its just wonderful.

I’m curious about the audition process for the Beast role. Did Disney seek you out or did you have to audition?

Benson: Oh, yeah, everyone auditioned. It was quite a process. They were looking at everyone. I was lucky because I was a sound engineer and had my own little studio at home, so I understood a lot about microphone technique; I didn’t try to blow anybody away. I tried to make the Beast a character rather than a cartoon. I think that’s what they liked about it.

You’ve done a lot of Broadway, and you even wrote your own libretto and score for an off-Broadway show called Open Heart, which starred your wife. Do you have plans to do more Broadway?

Benson: I hope I get to do more. I love the theatre. I grew up doing theatre, I was trained as an actor in the theatre, and I met my wife in the theatre, in Pirates of Penzance. I really would love to go back to the theatre. I would like to do it with Karla (his wife) again if it’s possible. I also would like to write something again. You know, tackling it just one time isn’t good enough for me. I really think I know what I did right and what I did wrong. I would love to try again and hire only the best, and Karla DeVito is only the best. So, yes, I would love to.

A lot of your career credits are music-related. Did you receive any formal music training? If so, which instruments do you play?

Benson: Well I was on The Ed Sullivan Show back in ’68 (that would make him twelve years old at the time), and I taught myself how to play guitar. I think I started writing songs within the first few weeks of someone handing me a guitar. It just seemed so natural to me. I wanted to make really cool music. I started writing songs, and I literally never stopped. So I’ve never received formal training but I was in the Musicians Union when I was about fifteen or sixteen playing on jingles, and I used to sing and play guitar on The Tonight Show back when Johnny Carson was the host. I used to play in New York at a place called Reno Sweeney's, and in L.A. I would play The Troubadour and the Roxy. But now I’m writing songs for my daughter. Just the music, she’s the lyricist and the singer. Karla tells us when we’re doing well and when we’re not and need to get back on track.

What’s remarkable is that you didn’t receive a formal education either, and yet you’ve been a respected professor at both the University of South Carolina and at NYU. You’re kind of what they call a student of life, huh?

Benson: Yeah, and I think that if you’re in the arts, you’re a student until the day you die. I’m very fortunate. I have been a film professor because I understand the technical side of film. I adore it and was always drawn to that. I’ve been a film professor for over twenty-two years; my last stint was four years at NYU as a film professor. But, no, I never did go to college. I kind of wish I could go now. I would like to be a doctor, and I’m not kidding you.

Wow, that would make you a modern-day renaissance man! Finally, my last question is about the novel manuscript you’ve been working on called “I’m Not Dead… Yet!” Is it completed?

Benson: It’s not completed, and that’s because Karla and I are thinking that maybe it should be stand-up, a comedy thing. I’ve had four open-heart surgeries, and I would like to help those people who get that diagnosis too. I would like to help them so that they’re not frightened, and they know what questions to ask. My journey has been so wild and exceptional that I look at it as being very funny. I look at almost everything as if it’s funny, so I would love to do a stand-up act called “I’m Not Dead Yet” to help people in the process, by making jokes and making people laugh. I would love to help heal with laughter and I would love for people to learn with laughter. So I want to see if I can tackle that. 

Beauty and the Beast 3D is currently playing in theaters now!

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